Will Deplatforming 8Chan Really Work?
History suggests that online racism is hard to keep down. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
On the list of factors contributing to the rise of white-nationalist violence, the behavior of various internet platforms and service providers comes in… somewhere. It’s probably somewhere behind easy access to deadly firearms and the American right’s embrace of racist rhetoric, led by President Trump. Perhaps it’s ahead of Fox News, which has helped to normalize said rhetoric but whose audience skews older, and is mostly confined to the United States. Who knows where it ranks in comparison to the general media frenzy over mass shootings, which amplifies their impact and incentivizes future attacks, however unwittingly.
The internet — in particular, hate-strewn, extremist message boards such as 8chan and the infrastructure that supports them — has helped to connect, radicalize, and incubate mass shooters such as the 21-year-old man who killed at least 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. He was the third terrorist this year to post a racist manifesto that ended up on 8chan, after the Christchurch mosque and Poway synagogue shooters. (8chan’s owner, Jim Watkins, claims the manifesto was first posted on Instagram, which Facebook disputes.) That’s a lot of blood on the hands of a single message board.
It’s no wonder the website and its logistical enablers, including the online infrastructure company Cloudflare, became a target of outrage in the wake of El Paso. And despite its initial resistance, it’s no surprise that Cloudflare eventually bowed to pressure and dropped 8chan as a client Sunday evening. The site was restored temporarily by another provider, only to go dark again on Monday.
The public pressure on internet companies to “deplatform” hatemongers in the wake of a mass shooting is understandable, if only because it feels like we have to do something. And perhaps pushing sites like 8chan into ever darker corners of the internet will make a difference on the margins. If nothing else, it sends the message that tech companies must take some responsibility for the destructive uses of their services.
But two years after Cloudflare dropped the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site following the racist…